Men’s cross country increasing their pace at second season invitational

By Marc Jean-Louis

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(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

Entering his 48th season with the Massachusetts men’s cross country team, coach Ken O’Brien saw his underclassman-heavy roster and felt a bit of uncertainty as to how the season would go.

“The young guys come to school having run three miles in high school cross country,” O’Brien said. “Their first races here are theoretically going to be five miles. They’re nearly doubling their racing distance and they don’t know what to expect.”

That uncertainty showed in the season opening Minuteman Invitational on Sept. 13th, when UMass finished fourth out of six teams.

Friday, the Minutemen will have an opportunity to rebound, as they travel east to Boston for the Coast to Coast Battle in Beantown. It will be their first meet in the state capital since the New England Championship last season, when UMass placed 28th out of 41 teams.

The meet is being hosted by Boston College and features a packed field of 19 different schools. Notable participants include the Eagles, No. 3 Oregon, No. 8 Syracuse and defending national champion No. 16 Providence.

O’Brien kept his runners in packs during their first meet and looks to do more of the same on Friday.

“This team is young and they really responded to the first outing that way,” he said. “Kids who are inexperienced, if they find themselves running with their front runners, they stay excited. So I think we’ll keep with the group effect for a while.”

O’Brien said that the team spent the majority of its practice working on strength to prepare for the upcoming meet, including running up hills over an 11-mile stretch at a steady pace to build up endurance. Junior captain Benjamin Thomas, who was named a co-UMass Athlete of the Week following his third-place finish at the Minuteman Invitational, is amazed with how his younger teammates have responded thus far.

“They’re a lot better than I had expected them to be,” Thomas said. “They’ve adjusted well and in our workouts, they’ve got some fire in them. It’s easy to go at your own pace and not try and shoot for the older guys. They’ve put themselves right there with the top guys, so I’m really excited to see what we can do.”

“Ben is an awesome leader,” senior John Mantia said in reference to Thomas. “He’s very vocal and brings a lot of positive energy to give. And he just knows how to say the right things at the right moments.

Mantia finished 15th overall and third for UMass in the Minuteman Invitational in his first cross country race since 2011. To improve on Friday, he stresses the importance of keeping things consistent from one race to the next.

“I want to continue what I’ve done,” Mantia said. “I don’t try to get too high or too low, just stay relaxed. If I were to change anything, I may just want to get up a little bit earlier in the race and start a bit faster. But other than that, show up to practice every day and keep it consistent. Consistency is the key.”

The meet will take place at Franklin Park at the start time is set for 3:30 p.m.

Marc Jean-Louis can be reached at [email protected]